Magyar United Church of Christ was founded as an ethnic congregation- a Hungarian congregation in 1916. From its very beginning the church mission had to do with welcoming those from the local Hungarian community into a place where they would feel at home. The worship service was done in Hungarian by a minister who had been brought to the US from Hungary. Fundraisers were done selling traditional hungarian foods like chicken paprikas, csiga noodles and Hungarian kolbasz, a delicious paprika spiced sausage. Summer VBS consisted of the children learning to speak Hungarian through recitation and singing.
Over time, things began to change (surprised?) Young people seemed to not return to this church as they became adults. So the crowds of the 1940s, 50s and 60s gave way to empty pews. Yet, those who left, chose churches that were part of the United Church of Christ and fairly close by. Some chose churches that taught Biblical inerrancy. Others were fine with a more liberal take on the Bible. But, few younger people chose this church that their grandparents or parents had founded. They chose instead to be at churches that were very “American” and much more missional than MUCC.
And as is typical of older congregations, those who remained at MUCC did not want things to change. And they made this very clear. There was resistance to the Sunday worship service becoming an English service. An early morning Hungarian service had been offered and continued for many years- perhaps until the 1990s or so.
Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of Matthew commission his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. I recently asked this congregation that I’ve served for seven and a half years now, how we were doing on this score. When I arrived at the church, it was certainly not a consideration at all. The people seemed to have forgotten, or maybe they never learned, that the church is a community whose purpose is to go out and make disciples. I’ve asked often how we can do this by remaining inside our own church, a church that when I arrived was an island in the middle of a neighborhood that was entirely changed from the Hungarian neighborhood that it used to be.
When, shortly after I answered the call to this church, I suggested it was time to meet the neighbors, I was warned not to go door to door because I might get hurt. I went to the neighbors. The people I talked to were just like us in so many ways. They were invited to worship with us. Though we’ve had no takers, our neighbors know we are here and they know they are welcome anytime. We have offered a summer free carnival and given away school supplies as game prizes. We also gave away hotdogs, chips and beverages. We’ve offered a vacation Bible School for 7 years now. The kids don’t learn Hungarian at our VBS, but some of the neighborhood kids come, and we’ve had the honor of watching them grow up. We have an “I Team” whose sole purpose is to devise ways to open the church to others and to go out into the neighborhoods.
Yes. It’s a church that is changing after so many years of resisting. We enjoy a much more diverse Sunday morning worship. Our vision, now five years old, is Living the word, Honoring Tradition, Discipling ALL Peoples. We often start worship with the phrase, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” Or we say, “Welcome to Magyar United Church, of Christ, where God is still speaking.” I think people in the church are even beginning to believe this. I hear them, from time to time, share these phrases.
Yes. It’s true that some people stopped coming to the church as it is now. Some have changed churches. But, my sense is that what we are doing today is very Spirit led compared with what has been done at MUCC for a very long time. And I believe that God is truly in this, and brings us the occasional new member who is willing to learn some Hungarian traditions while providing us brand new ideas and perspectives on what ministry on behalf of God is really all about.
Yes. The future is still a mystery. But then again, it always will be.